For Bangladesh, the demography dividend phase is not so far away to be over. It is 2018 now, and within next 20 years the demographic dividend, the window of economic growth will start to close. Despite numbers of initiatives taken by the government, Bangladesh still could not transform the demography dividend into an economic one. According to the latest data of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics’ Labour Force Survey, Bangladesh added only 1.4 million jobs between 2013 and 2015-16 fiscal year, down from 4 million jobs it had added between 2010 and 2013.
In this situation, to be able to become a higher income country by 2041, Bangladesh needs to make a massive shift in its development policies. And the next 10 years are extremely crucial for that. What we do in the next 10 years, will determine our progress for the later 100 years.
To maximize the next 10 years, Bangladesh needs to firstly drive the growth through 8 divisions. Secondly, the country should equip the youth with the right skill and provide the right support system. Lastly, it needs to drive the next level of transformation centered around technology and innovation. In order to do that, Bangladesh must utilize every opportunity that comes in the way. And one of the biggest opportunities would be bringing back the knowledge from its people who reside abroad and serve in knowledge-driven sectors. So goes, the Non-Resident Bangladeshis or the NRBs.
A large number of the NRBs are involved in knowledge-driven professions. For Bangladesh’s next level growth, it is highly imperative to engage these NRBs in the development blueprint. Realizing this need, Bangladesh Brand Forum has put together the momentous initiative ‘NRB Conclave’.
On 30th December 2017 the NRB Conclave has been able to bring around 300 professionals, policymakers, entrepreneurs, artists, corporate leaders and renowned NRBs under one roof. With the theme ‘Transforming Bangladesh through Knowledge Remittance’, the conclave created a platform for the audience to share insights, opinions and learn from the experts.
The term ‘Knowledge Remittance’ coined during the conclave, has been able to catch the attention of many. What does it actually mean? Infusion of monetary remittance has contributed to our nation’s economy. But we cannot put a price on the value that can be generated through knowledge remittance in Bangladesh. Hence, slightly different from monetary remittance, Knowledge Remittance is the flow of knowledge, mentorship, guidance, and expertise to Bangladesh.
Speaking at the conclave, the Founder & Managing Director of Bangladesh Brand Forum, Mr. Shariful Islam pointed towards the key problem. He stressed, “As a country, we fail to tell our story of progress.” Branding is all about storytelling. Every brand is different because every brand has a distinct story. The key indicator behind the success of a brand is – how many people believe in the brand’s story. “It is the duty of every proud Bangladeshi to uphold the story and identity of Bangladesh round the world,” he added.
In a special note, Enam Ali MBE, FIH, Founder and Director, the British Curry Awards shared the 3Cs of the future: Commerce, Communication and Convenience. Companies like Uber have made our lives convenient. With over 2 billion users, Facebook has redefined communication. Jack Ma has been one of the leading innovators of China through his E-commerce giant Alibaba. Jawed Karim, one of the founders of YouTube has his roots connected to Bangladesh. How many of us know it? Mr. Ali stressed his concern that many talented Bangladeshis are making big statements all-round the globe. But they are not being mentioned, they’re not being recognized.
The daylong conclave comprised of three keynote sessions, four panel discussions and three insight sessions, featuring some of the brightest NRBs from around the world. Besides, there was an exclusive showcasing of 8 divisions’ branding and 10 years journey of Bangladesh Brand Forum. Also, there was a musical performance by Shondhi, Sovvota and Shovon. In the following sections, we will try to have a gist of every components of the conclave.
LUTFEY SIDDIQI, CFA, GOVERNOR OF LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS
Lutfey Siddiqi staged a keynote full of captivating stories. He recollected the story of the waiter at Le Méridien who remembered from 6 months back that Mr. Lutfey likes guava juice without ice and brought it. Such amazing social intelligence! Just like the waiter, many civil service workers go beyond their call of duty to provide their best service.
The Turkish airlines run a matchmaking service in their planes. They have little video clips of startups pitching their ideas. It reflects the level of aggression in their branding. Bangladesh’s hustle of investment needs to be as aggressive as retailers at a fish market.
AlphaGo Zero, Google’s chess program learnt chess within 4 hours and beat the world champion human and computer. Countries are working on Blockchain and e-governance. They are disrupting traditional bureaucracy with technology.
Some companies are taking back their factories to their mother countries. How? Aren’t labor costs too high? They’re creating smart factories where they required more intellectual labor and less physical labor.
This is the pace of the global world. Bangladesh needs to make up a lot of distance just to remain in the race. Mr. Lutefy urged the NRBs not to think themselves as special people and requested to stay connected to the country in every possible way, sending knowledge remittance.
FAISAL AHMED, CHIEF ECONOMIST OF BANGLADESH BANK
Faisal Ahmed, Chief Economist of Bangladesh Bank portrayed the economic picture of Bangladesh in a very simple way. Our motherland, Bangladesh is in the mix of 4 critical transformation: urbanization, demography, technology and industrialization. All these 4 transformations are taking place throughout the world in emerging nations. So what is the difference in Bangladesh? It’s the population density.
Bangladesh’s economic progress has steadily moved up. In the last 2 decades, many transformations have been visible. Our bottom up growth helped the human development indicators. Life expectancy is well over 73.
In Bangladesh, managing inequality is extremely important. More than finance, where NRBs can play a role are knowledge, skillset and technology. Our growth has been sustainable and resilient as it has been driven from the root level. Companies like bKash and Grameen Bank have redesigned our economy.
From being the poster child of disasters, we have transformed ourselves into a developing nation. Our productivity in doing jobs that require basic skillset is 80%. The challenge comes when we need manufacturing jobs which require a more advanced skillset. Our demographic dividend is phenomenal. However, to continue development of our nation into a middle-income country; we need to focus on skill development in the manufacturing sector.
To summarize, the bottom up story of our economy has been remarkable. The challenge has been the top down level. NRBs need to engage in facilitating knowledge flow to the young demography of our country. Narrating Bangladesh’s economic story to the world will largely rely upon the efforts of our Non Resident Bangladeshis.
STORY OF AN NRB WHO MADE IT IN BANGLADESH
He went to USA in search of a better life but came back in 1996 and built one of the largest power engineering solution providers of Bangladesh. He is none other than Humayun Rashid, Managing Director of Energypac Power Generation Limited. Before leaving Bangladesh, in 1982 he first started the company with his partners. Initially, they were importing transformers. Then they got into the transformer repairing business. They were the only one back then. That is when the idea of manufacturing transformers popped up in his mind.
Every country has its fair set of merits and demerits. Mr. Humayun believes that Bangladesh is tailored to be a manufacturing powerhouse in the world map. We have the capability and the infrastructure to export world-class products starting from wood to technology all over the globe. It’s a land full of opportunities, all you have to do is bring in your ideas and build your dreams.
INVESTMENT & NRB CHALLENGES & OPPORTUNITY
Our country salutes 3 groups of people: the farmers, the garment workers and the NRBs. Our economy is formed by these 3 pillars. Nevertheless, it is a land full of challenges and opportunities.
The first-panel discussion focused on the challenges and opportunities in investment, faced by NRBs in Bangladesh. Kazi M. Aminul Islam, Executive chairman of Bangladesh Investment Development authority was the session chair. It was moderated by the Chief Economist of Bangladesh Bank, Faisal Ahmed. The panel members were Enam Ali MBE, FIH, Founder and Director of British Curry Awards; Md. Mehmood Husain, Managing Director of NRB Bank; Mohammed Ayub, Additional Secretary of Bangladesh Economic Zone Association; and Lutfey Siddiqi CFA, Governor of London School of Economics.
The panelists discussed the need for a platform where all the NRBs can raise their voice. Because they need to foster constructive dialogue to bridge the gaps. Many foreigners come to our country and fall in love with Bangladesh and her people. So what builds this attraction? It is the little things starting from checking out in the airport to the whole journey.
We should take inspiration from our cricket team. To coach our best cricketing talents, we do not care if the coach is local or foreign as long as we get results. The same philosophy should be implemented in all other sectors.
The NRBs want to invest in this country but the investment is still a challenge. The blue-collar workers are being deceived by frauds. In the suburban areas, illegal possession of properties and registration problem is an alarming problem. The white collars are trying to take help from third parties as they suffer from similar insecurities.
For becoming a high-income country our per capita income needs to be over 12000$ according to current standards. The threshold between middle and high income will be 15000$ by 2040. If the number is multiplied by 200 million it becomes 3 trillion which is 12 times the current size of the economy. Every investor be it NRB or not, has a similar set of factors and interest when it comes to investing. As a nation, we have to tick off every single box to increase investment and drive the growth of our nation.
THE CULTURE STORY OF BANGLADESH
The next panel discussion portrayed the cultural story of Bangladesh. Think about China or India for a moment. A picture comes up to your mind. That is the culture of a nation. Culture defines a nation. The second panel discussion focused on the cultural story of Bangladesh. The session was presided over by Nazia Andaleeb Preema, Visual Artist, Founder, Bangladesh Creative Forum, President, WIL (Women in Leadership); Mehreen Mahmud, Music Artist; Syed Gousul Alam Shaon, Managing Partner & Country Head, Grey Advertising Bangladesh Ltd.; and the panel was moderated by Shariful Islam, Founder & MD of Bangladesh Brand Forum.
Our language, Bangla differentiates us. The name of our country: Bangladesh, is the only country in the whole wide world that has been named after its state language. Starting from the language movement in 1952, our land is a land full of inspiring stories. Stories of struggle and triumph in the battle of life. The panelists raised concern, asking if we have been able to share these stories.
Esteemed panelists continued with the importance of language. Do you know the meaning of Keuketa? When is the last time you used the word ‘Obhibhabok’? Can you speak in Bangla for 5 minutes at a stretch without uttering a single English word? Due to the infusion of foreign culture, many Bangla words are being replaced by their foreign terms. We are slowly losing the reason for which our ancestors sacrificed their precious lives.
Music is a core element of every rich culture, panelists continued. It’s unique from the other elements like movies and stories. Because it evolves with time and taste. Many cultures have embraced this evolution factor while others have failed. Our rich history is centered around Baul Shongeet, Lokogeeti and Ucchango Dhara. These musical genres when merged with modern genres like jazz and disco, sync just harmoniously. Our originality is there to be presented to the world but the right form of execution is absent.
Even though our culture is not highly rated, foreigners who have visited our country have a completely opposite perception. This points to the fact that the right form of branding is absent. And contents are still being made for a very small audience. Countries like India and South Korea has elevated their cultural value to newer heights by creating content for the globe. Indian movies are being aired in foreign theatres. Many Bangladeshis stream Korean movies.
If you have never tasted Bangladeshi Pitha (cake) you will never know how delicious it is. We need to give the world a chance to taste our music, our cinemas by offering an unmatchable experience. Culture is expressed in stories. Stories in the form of movies, music and other forms. We recite our story to the world to position ourselves as a nation and uphold our identity. Culture is not supposed to be hidden and maintained in-house. Culture is supposed to be shown off and vested with pride.
NRB AND FUTURE SKILL DEVELOPMENT
The third panel discussion focused on how the NRBs can contribute to future skill development. The panelists were Dr. Milton Hasnat, Senior Lecturer & Epidemiologist, Australia; Moushumi M. Khan, JD, MPA, Country Director, The Foundation for Charitable Activities in Bangladesh (FCAB); M. Zulfiquar Hussain, CEO & Lead Consultant, grow n excel; Shayaan Seraj, Group Director, Strategy, Marketing & Operations, Aqua Paints, Elite Steel (Elite Group). Moderator of the panel, Prof. Syed Saad Andaleeb, Vice Chancellor of BRAC University started the session with an emotional question- what brought the panelists back to Bangladesh and how can they contribute to the country?
One of the panelists reiterated that even though the doctors of Bangladesh are world class they are not recognized globally. Many middle-class patients of Bangladesh are being forced to fly to India to tackle health complexities. The more affluent people are traveling to Bangkok for treatment. The panelists urged for an immediate strategy to enrich the young medical students of the country with more advanced skills. And the successful NRB doctors who serve in different advanced nations can play a huge part in that regard.
Moving on, the panelists agreed that the supply chain is not good enough. The manpower available is not qualified enough to handle the investments and create value. Ideally, a doctor should give 12 minutes to a patient but in our country the average is 48 seconds.
Our demographic dividend might turn into a demographic disaster if we do not focus on skill development. We need a shift of mindset towards continuous learning. Education does not end with a degree, rather life is a process of continuous learning and unlearning. The NRBs can contribute and facilitate to skill development by ensuring the best coach for the builders of our nation.
Bangladeshi cricket team is delivering sky high successes under a foreign coach. Similar perspectives need to be considered by our corporations. Only if the best coaching and nurturing of young leaders are ensured, they can transform themselves into world class professionals. It is a sensitive topic where all the stakeholders starting from the universities to the job creators need to collaborate.
NRB AND TRANSFORMING THE 8 DIVISIONS THROUGH INNOVATION
The fourth and last panel discussion asked a critical question. How can the 8 divisions be transformed through innovation?
The moderator of the session was Nazim Farhan Choudhury, Chief Executive Officer, Colours FM. The panelists were Kawser Jamal, Public Safety Technology Security Expert & Entrepreneur, California, USA; Kazi Monirul Kabir, Managing Director & Chief Innovation Officer, Spider Digital Commerce; Minhaz Anwar, Chief StoryTeller, BetterStories Asia, Head of Grameenphone Accelerator; Tina Jabeen, Investment Advisor, Startup Bangladesh, ICT Division, Government of Bangladesh; and Tousif Ishtiaque, Project Leader, The Boston Consulting Group.
The panel shared a story of a girl named Rumana. She used to sell sanitary napkins from her house situated in a village. So, she set up a signboard outside her house. The ‘murubbi’s (elderly citizens) came and burnt down the signboard. Just like this, many innovative and daunting initiatives are being nipped in the bud every day. We must encourage the young guns to think and act freely.
Like Rumana, creativity and problem solving are infused in the cells of every child of Bangladesh. It gets killed by our ‘assembly line’ oriented education design. We need to redesign education that brings out the explorer in us.
STEM education is comprised of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math discipline. It is an education system that is project based. Kids do projects to implement what they have learnt. It enhances their problem-solving capabilities.
Entrepreneurship and innovation are about the ecosystem. No one has done it alone. We already have a number of success stories of startups. Companies like Pathao (a Bangladeshi Ride-sharing startup) are redefining our lifestyle. As a nation, we must share these stories to the young generation to inspire newer ideas that will shape our economy and help us build a brighter future for tomorrow.
BANGLADESH POTENTIAL – ROLE OF DIASPORA
Dr. Arif Dowla, Managing Director of ACI Limited conducted the first insight session exploring the potential of our homeland. The session was in a conversation format, in which Mr. Ashraf Bin Taj, President, Marketing Society of Bangladesh shared the stage with Dr. Dowla and moderated the conversation.
Bangladesh is a country of enormous opportunities. We have a strong headcount to charge into the 4th industrial revolution. Our problem-solving capabilities have been largely enhanced by technologies like the internet of things and artificial intelligence. We should look at the developed economies, identify the gaps between how we do things and how they get it done. Every gap is an opportunity and we can unearth new value by filling in those gaps.
Business is formed when we draw a line that joins global businesses and our need for it. The NRBs can create a difference by mentoring and guiding the leaders of tomorrow. We need a pyramid model where knowledge is carried downstream from the top.
Dr. Arif Dowla said, “You will be surprised by the quality of our youth.” NRBs can engage in the sector-specific areas in small scales. They can try with getting their feet wet. If it works, scale up fast – if it doesn’t, try something new. As an NRB, follow what Bangladesh is doing in the sector you are from and dig out how you can make it better. Your experience and knowledge will take us forward as a company, as a sector, as a nation.
THE STORY OF PRAAVA HEALTH
The second insight session featured the founder of Praava Health, Sylvana Q. Sinha. Miss Sylvana was always interested in the development economy. The idea first ignited when she and her family visited Bangladesh a few years back. Her mother was diagnosed with illness while they were in Bangladesh. They could not get quality healthcare here. Consequently, they had to fly back to USA after failed attempts in Bangladesh and Bangkok.
The situation is so critical that the doctors don’t even have time to smile to the patient. Praava Health is grooming a range of family doctors for the middle income earners of the country. Their driving concepts are family doctors and health insurances. Technology is the future of medicine and Praava Health is pioneering the medical transformation of Bangladesh.
MESSAGE FROM BCCB
Rumana Selim CRSP, Vice President, Bangladeshi Canadian – Canadian Bangladeshi (BCCB) took the stage and shared a small message from her organization. She explained the visions of BCCB and talked about some of their future plans. She urged the NRBs living in Canada to engage more with the Knowledge Remittance and ensured to provide full support from her organization.
PARTNERS & PATRONS
The NRB Conclave was Supported by Energypac. For the momentous initiative, Strategic Partners were Women In Leadership, Bangladesh Creative Forum, The Daily Star, BCCB, and NRB Global Business. The initiative was made possible with help from Event Partner Le Méridien, Media Partner Ekattor TV and Samakal, Digital Content Partner is ICE Business Times, Digital Media Partner Bangla Tribune, Radio Partner Radio Today and PR Partner Masthead PR.
Tom Freidman, a renowned American journalist once asked, “Do you have more dreams than memories? Or more memories than dreams?” Creating new memories separates the successful countries from the ones that are stuck.
Had our execution been as good as our paperwork Bangladesh would look completely different today. The government needs to establish a more efficient feedback mechanism to systematically track and improve policy implementation and investment decisions.
The NRBs need to do their duty towards their nation – not out of compassion and philanthropy, rather out of self-interest. Because, indeed it is a country full of opportunities. We need to build the bridge that will help build the ecosystem. A platform that will bring the NRBs, entrepreneurs and all the other stakeholders under one umbrella. Because entrepreneurship cannot be pursued alone, it is the ecosystem that facilitates it.
The transformation journey cannot be incremental or marginal, it has to be exponential. It is an issue that must be addressed collectively. We are poor because we are poor in pursuing knowledge. And that must go away. Who will do this transformation? Transformation starts from you, from me. Our thoughts must shift.
NRBs must not come to Bangladesh for philanthropy – they should come here for self-interest and value creation. Only then we can take our country forward in a pace never thought of before.